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Syria: Leading Kurdish Islamic cleric 'tortured to death'

According to information received by Amnesty International, Sheikh Muhammad Ma’shuq al-Khiznawi, 48, died on 30 May, 20 days after he “disappeared”, apparently detained by Syrian Military Intelligence at an unknown location. His body was handed over to his family on 1 June.

Amnesty International Syria Researcher Neil Sammonds said:

“The Syrian authorities should launch an immediate, independent investigation into Sheikh Muhammad Ma’shuq al-Khiznawi’s death in custody.'

“The results must be made public and those responsible for his torture should be brought to justice.”

Sheikh Muhammad Ma’shuq al-Khiznawi was an outspoken member of the Kurdish community who practised as an imam in the city of Qamishli in the predominantly Kurdish north-eastern area of Syria. He was a critic of violence and terrorism and recently called for reforms in Syria and for more dialogue between religious groups. In February and March 2005 he travelled to Norway, Brussels, and Germany, apparently in connection with his work on building relations between the EU and Kurdish community.

Sheikh Muhammad “disappeared' after leaving the Centre for Islamic Studies in Damascus on 10 May. The Syrian authorities denied that they were holding him but then handed over his body to his family on 1 June. It was taken back to Qamishli to be buried that evening. The family and body were accompanied by 10 Military Intelligence cars on the journey between Damascus and Qamishli, according to witnesses.

According to Amnesty International’s information, Sheikh Muhammad is at least the sixth Syrian Kurd to have died as a result of torture and ill-treatment in custody since March 2004. Amnesty International has not received information about any investigations into any of these deaths in custody, nor into any other of the scores of allegations of torture that it has received over many years. The organisation knows of no cases in which officials responsible for torture have been prosecuted.

More than 2,000 people, almost all of them Kurds, were arrested in the wake of disturbances in the country in March 2004. Most of these were held incommunicado at unknown locations, and about 100 still remain in detention, despite a presidential pardon in March 2005. Amnesty International has documented widespread accounts of torture and ill-treatment of detainees in Syria, including of Children's rights.

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